Review: Blackwood, by Michael Farris Smith

Pub. Date: 19 March 2020
Price: £12.99
ISBN: 978-0-85730-390-5
Binding: Paperback

The small town of Red Bluff, Mississippi, has seen better days, but now seems stuck in a black-and-white photograph from days gone by. Unknowing, the town and its people are about to come alive again, awakening to nightmares, as ghostly whispers have begun to fill the night from the kudzu-covered valley that sits on the edge of town.
When a vagabond family appears on the outskirts, when twin boys and a woman go missing, disappearing beneath the vines, a man with his own twisted past struggles to untangle the secrets in the midst of the town trauma.

This is a landscape of fear and ghosts, of regret and violence. It is a landscape transformed by the kudzu vines that have enveloped the hills around it, swallowing homes, cars, rivers, and hiding terrible secrets deeper still. Blackwood is the evil in the woods, the wickedness that lurks in all of us

My Review

Thanks to Anne, of Random Things Tours, and to the author and publishers for sending me a copy of this book.

I was disturbed from the off and remained disturbed as the novel continued. It’s a very disturbing narrative and I struggled with it. The writing is very poetic, punctuated by nastiness. I really didn’t know what to make of it.

The characters of Colburn and Myers are searching for something, answers about a horrible event that binds them both. Celia is struggling with her grief and an ex who won’t let things go. The unnamed man, woman and boy are ghosts floating through the plot, casus belli.

The plot is slow moving, building tension, layers of grief and fear, desperation. Colburn returns to the town he left as a child, after he found his father hanging. At the same time a family of wanderers turn up, their car falling apart. They disappear into the kudzu. Myers, the town sheriff tries to help them but not enough. Colburn tries to find answers, and meets Celia who runs the bar down the road from his workshop. Twins go missing, then Celia. Colburn is blamed. The kudzu lurks over it all. In a deep pit there are answers.

That the narrative and writing affects me so much is probably a sign that it’s a good book, but I need to sort out this jumble of feelings before I can really say.

I’m haunted by it, by the characters, the story of a dying town and living ghosts. I read this book in one sitting after trying for a couple of days (anxiety has been getting in the way of reading thanks to the lock down) and now I don’t know what to do with myself.

Michael Farris Smith is the author of The Fighter, Desperation Road, Rivers, and The Hands of Strangers. He has been awarded the Mississippi Author Award for Fiction,
Transatlantic Review Award, and Brick Streets Press Story Award. His novels have appeared on Best of the Year lists with Esquire, Southern Living, Book Riot, and numerous others, and have been named Indie Next List, Barnes & Noble Discover, and Amazon Best
of the Month selections. He has been a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, the Gold Dagger Award in the UK, and the Grand Prix des Lectrices in France, and his essays have appeared with The New York Times, Bitter Southerner, Garden & Gun, and more. He lives with his wife and daughters in Oxford, Mississippi.

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